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A Win in Colorado After a Bike Accident in Denver

Adding insult to injury is not just a cliche for cyclists, it is our reality after a crash.

As lawyers who advocate for cyclists in Colorado, we try to effectuate change one case at a time.  Recently in traffic court, we were able to make things better not just for a sole client, but also for other cyclists.

Jonathan came to see me after a horrible bike crash.  He was crossing the road from a bike path and was hit by a car going about 45 mph.

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While Jonathan was lying in a hospital bed in extreme pain, a Denver Police Officer came to visit him and handed him a traffic ticket.

As happens all too often, the officer had not interviewed Jonathan at the scene or at the hospital.  He simply visited for the sole point of giving him a ticket.

Adding insult to injury is not just a cliche for cyclists, it is our reality after a crash.

When I saw the traffic ticket, I was perplexed.  He was charged with the following offense:

“Improperly riding a bicycle on a roadway or bike path.”

How can a cyclist be ticketed for riding in a bike path?!  Or the road, for that matter?  Bikes have a right to be ride somewhere, but according to this ticket, apparently Denver disagreed.  

I decided to fight it.

To give some more context, Jonathan was wearing bright clothes and riding his pink fixed gear bike from the Auraria College Campus on Colfax Avenue on bike path that has sections that cross a road.  The road he crossed is where cars can enter or exit to the highway, which happens to be Interstate 25 and is one of the busiest highways in Colorado. There are signs for cars to look out for folks crossing the street and to yield to those on the bike path, and there is not a visible sign for the bikes to stop or yield to the cars.  

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Here is the car’s view.  YIELD!

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Turns out, I know this dangerous intersection well, as I have represented 2 other cyclists hurt at this same place.  Cars fail to yield to pedestrians and bikers because they are zooming to get on the highway.  Here is the bike path that he was riding on.

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When Jonathan and I went to the criminal preliminary hearing, I told the Court that he was not guilty and we wanted to go to trial.  The City Attorney asked us to pay $40 for court costs and said that she would drop all charges.  We declined.

On May 18, 2016, Jonathan and I showed up at traffic court for trial, the City Attorney had prepared her case and was ready to pursue the ticket issued by the Denver Police Department against my client.  Again, the attorney offered us to pay $40 for court costs and she would drop all charges, and we declined again on principle.  In support of the City’s prosecution, the City told me that they had two detectives, the investigating officer, and two witnesses present in the Courtroom that would say Jonathan failed to yield to the car and should be found guilty of “improperly riding a bicycle on a roadway or bike path.”

I told the City Attorney that disagreed with the traffic violation that Jonathan was given, and we rejected their plea offer.  I then showed the City Attorney and the detectives the photos that I took at the scene with Jonathan.  I also explained to the City Attorney that the intersection was unsafe and their charges should be dismissed.  I also argued that the intersection did not have proper signage since a nearby sign was vandalized so there was no warning for cyclists or pedestrians of cars entering the intersection.

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Finally, I explained that the intersection was poorly designed since the users have to make a 90 degree turn to enter the intersection and cannot see oncoming traffic.

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This photos shows where the bike path crosses the onramp.  The reality is that the City designed a death trap.  Cars fail to yield here, and the high speed puts crossing pedestrians and cyclists at great risk.

After giving the matter some more thought, and right before we started the trial, the City Attorney agreed with me and changed her mind about prosecution of the case.  In fact, not only did she dismiss the violation, but she ordered the Denver City Engineering Department to post a new large sign to warn cyclists and pedestrians about motor vehicle traffic.  This was a just result and hopefully will make this bad area safer for cyclists in the future.

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